Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Robothal: What a relief! A’s could use bullpen differently than other teams

The natural question, now that Jim Johnson has thrown five consecutive scoreless innings, is whether the $10 million reliever soon will return to the closer’s role.

Well, what if the Athletics refuse to entertain the notion?

What if they take a wrecking ball to traditional bullpen roles and use their best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, regardless of inning?

If ever there was a general manager who would be willing to defy baseball’s conventional wisdom, it’s Billy Beane.

And if ever there was a team deep enough in dominant relievers to attempt an unorthodox but potentially optimal usage pattern, it’™s the A’s.

I’m not saying it’s going to happen. I’m not saying it should happen. I’m just saying that it wouldn’t surprise me if the A’s declined to re-establish Johnson as their closer, alternating him with other relievers in the role instead. ...

To be sure, a one-inning closer who pitches mostly in save situations is not conducive to an optimal bullpen. On the other hand, the creation of an entirely new usage pattern would require not just a strong manager, but also strong-minded relievers.

Melvin might very well be that kind of manager. Gregerson, Doolittle and Johnson might very well be those kinds of relievers. Still, the concept works better in a vacuum. And teams don’t play in a vacuum, not in an age of multi-million-dollar relievers who crave predictability and managers who face immediate 140-character second-guessing after every blown save.

Would the competitive advantage gained from a non-traditional bullpen be worth the potential disruption to so many in uniform? That is a question that not even the most gifted sabermetrician could answer, unless he or she could get inside the head of every reliever and every manager. It would be easy if they all were robots. But they’re not.

Managers get second-guessed plenty as it is—by fans, by reporters and yes, by their GMs. If I were a manager, I’d strive to be less rigid with my bullpen than most. But that’s easy for me to say as I sit here musing at my laptop. It’s a lot more difficult sitting in a dugout, making heat-of-the-moment decisions.

Even free thinkers such as Joe Maddon seem to prefer traditional bullpen management; the Rays invent new closers almost every season, but they do not try to reinvent the role. The Athletics, to this point, have operated in similar fashion. And if they returned to a typical setup—say, Otero and lefty Fernando Abad in the sixth; Doolittle, Gregerson and Cook in the seventh and eighth; Johnson in the ninth—they almost certainly would be quite good (assuming, of course, that Johnson was pitching well enough to reclaim his job).

Indeed, the debate might be more fun in theory than meaningful in reality; Epstein once told Baseball Prospectus that optimal bullpen usage would create only a “small” competitive edge. The Athletics, to be sure, are in a commanding position no matter which approach they take. All of their relievers—even the long man, lefty Drew Pomeranz—are quite good.

JE (Jason) Posted: April 17, 2014 at 05:14 PM | 9 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: athletics, bullpens, relievers

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. cardsfanboy Posted: April 17, 2014 at 08:36 PM (#4688208)
What if they take a wrecking ball to traditional bullpen roles and use their best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, regardless of inning?

If ever there was a general manager who would be willing to defy baseball’s conventional wisdom, it’s Billy Beane.


You mean, kinda like how Matheny has been using Carlos Martinez this year? Which has gotten the writers and the GM upset with him, because they think he is avoiding his lesser pitchers...which is true in a way, but it doesn't negate that he's been using Martinez more in critical situations than any other pitcher, getting him appearances in 6th, 7th and 8th inning so far....still keeping the closer in Rosenthal role though.
   2. Rough Carrigan Posted: April 17, 2014 at 09:30 PM (#4688241)
The Indians did this in 2007 when they had a fairly lousy closer, Joe Borowski, to whom they gave the 1 inning, 3 run lead official saves but they used the much better Rafael Bettancourt as a fireman coming in whenever the game was on the line.
   3. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 17, 2014 at 09:37 PM (#4688247)
still keeping the closer in Rosenthal role though.


You mean "in Rivera role." Show some respect. Did you learn nothing from last year?
   4. cardsfanboy Posted: April 17, 2014 at 09:50 PM (#4688255)
That was just a poorly worded sentence from me. "Rosenthal in the closer role"....
   5. Cooper Nielson Posted: April 18, 2014 at 01:56 AM (#4688310)
The Indians did this in 2007 when they had a fairly lousy closer, Joe Borowski, to whom they gave the 1 inning, 3 run lead official saves but they used the much better Rafael Bettancourt as a fireman coming in whenever the game was on the line.

Jim Leyland quietly did this with the Tigers at times, too. While Todd Jones/Fernando Rodney/etc. was the nominal "closer," Leyland would use his better pitchers (e.g., Joel Zuamaya, Al Alburquerque, Brandon Lyon) in the higher leverage spots. Maybe he didn't even realize he was doing it.
   6. theboyqueen Posted: April 18, 2014 at 02:21 AM (#4688315)
Bob Melvin has already mastered the offensive platoon; he is exactly the kind of guy I would trust with a bullpen like this. He is really an excellent manager.

The A's infield defense was horrific in their last game against the Angels which made their bullpen performance seem much worse than it really was but really they have a ton of effective guys in there.
   7. Dr. Vaux Posted: April 18, 2014 at 04:38 AM (#4688320)
Was Melvin a good manager with the Diamondbacks? I don't remember.
   8. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: April 18, 2014 at 08:22 AM (#4688339)
Jim Leyland quietly did this with the Tigers at times, too. While Todd Jones/Fernando Rodney/etc. was the nominal "closer," Leyland would use his better pitchers (e.g., Joel Zuamaya, Al Alburquerque, Brandon Lyon) in the higher leverage spots. Maybe he didn't even realize he was doing it.

Here's what I wrote about Leyland and his bullpens in my book:
One other interesting feature about Leyland’s pitching staffs is the lack of a dominating closer. Though not known as a critic of the role of closer, his actions indicate he thinks it is overrated. He either spreads saves out amongst his relievers or gives it to a second-rate arm, but he rarely uses his best arm exclusively in the ninth. In eleven years in Pittsburgh, only once did someone have more than 26 saves in a season (Jim Gott with 34 in 1988). Across all major league baseball, players posted 26 or more saves 135 times. During Pittsburgh’s divisional threepeat, no one lodged over eighteen saves in a season for the franchise. In 1990, the main relief ace recorded only thirteen saves on a team that won 95 contests. No one on the 1994 Pirates had more than seven saves, even though the team won 53 games in that strike-shortened season.

The most obvious example of Leyland’s treatment of relief aces came with Bill Landrum, who was the best closer Leyland ever had. Landrum recorded 26 saves with a 1.67 ERA in 1989, yet collected only thirteen of the club’s 43 saves the following season despite posting a 2.13 ERA. Leyland was not using him as some sort of 1970s style fireman where others got all the cheap saves, he just removed Landrum from the role despite his brilliant pitching. On July 1, Landrum racked up his twelfth save and had an ERA of 1.62. After that, Leyland stopped using him in save opportunities. He was more likely to pitch in the eighth or when his team was done even though he was clearly the best arm in the bullpen.

Landrum was no aberration. Leyland frequently puts his best relievers in middle relief. This was especially apparent in Detroit where veteran plodder Todd Jones saved games while far superior performances came from Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay, and Tim Byrdak. In Pittsburgh, Pat Clements clearly outpaced closer Don Robinson in 1986. When Jim Gott had 34 saves he was an average reliever. Dan Plesac’s ERA was more than a run lower than that of nominal relief ace Dan Miceli in 1996.

   9. Willie Mayspedester Posted: April 18, 2014 at 03:44 PM (#4688653)
He was more likely to pitch in the eighth or when his team was done even though he was clearly the best arm in the bullpen.


When his team was done? You mean down?

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
greenback calls it soccer
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogOT: Politics, September, 2014: ESPN honors Daily Worker sports editor Lester Rodney
(29 - 4:12am, Sep 02)
Last: CrosbyBird

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - September 2014
(6 - 2:36am, Sep 02)
Last: RollingWave

NewsblogTrevor Hoffman's Hall of Fame induction seems inevitable
(7 - 2:30am, Sep 02)
Last: Infinite Joost (Voxter)

NewsblogPhoto of the day: Bill Murray, indy league ticket-taker
(103 - 2:27am, Sep 02)
Last: Robert in Manhattan Beach

NewsblogNitkowski: Wanted: Major League manager...sort of.
(8 - 2:07am, Sep 02)
Last: Robert in Manhattan Beach

NewsblogOMNICHATTER 9-1-2014
(40 - 2:01am, Sep 02)
Last: MNB

NewsblogAstros Fire Bo Porter
(57 - 1:54am, Sep 02)
Last: base ball chick

NewsblogRobothal: Changed [Manny] Ramirez enjoyed helping Cubs prospects grow
(13 - 1:27am, Sep 02)
Last: The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott)

Hall of MeritMost Meritorious Player: 1957 Ballot
(10 - 1:12am, Sep 02)
Last: Moeball

NewsblogHBT: Jorge Soler with an extra-base hit in each of his first five games
(2 - 1:02am, Sep 02)
Last: madvillain

NewsblogRon Roenicke rips into home-plate umpire
(17 - 12:18am, Sep 02)
Last: Bunny Vincennes

NewsblogBlue Jays Acquire Mayberry Jr.
(7 - 12:10am, Sep 02)
Last: Infinite Joost (Voxter)

NewsblogAthletics Acquire Adam Dunn
(43 - 11:46pm, Sep 01)
Last: Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66)

NewsblogOT: The Soccer Thread August, 2014
(986 - 11:25pm, Sep 01)
Last: The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott)

NewsblogOT:  2014 College Football pre-season thread
(101 - 11:17pm, Sep 01)
Last: Lance Reddick! Lance him!

Page rendered in 0.1478 seconds
53 querie(s) executed